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Coronavirus: A Rough Initiation

Published April 16th, 2020


I am trying to make meaning, trying to find the “gift” in this coronavirus. I see the devastation it has brought, for sure. Three weeks ago, it got to my father, and it took him down quickly, with no mercy.  We couldn’t even visit him and hold his hand in the hospital as he struggled to breathe; we buried him and mourned his loss, alone and disconnected from our family and friends. It was utterly heartless. And, unfortunately, it is a story shared by hundreds of thousands of others. Yet, with all the horrible loss and separation the coronavirus has wrought, there must be something of value coming too. I don’t want to miss it. What is it that COVID-19 is bringing us that may be in service to our greatest good, individually, as a human species, and as a planet?

Last week, I attended a talk entitled “When The Bough Breaks – Grief, Community and Rough Initiations” given by my mentor and teacher, Francis Weller. He is seeing the coronavirus as a “rough initiation.” For context, in healthy and intact cultures, one’s path through life is marked by threshold experiences, ritual initiations or rites of passage, that acknowledge our passing from one stage of life to another. These rituals give life meaning and welcome each of us to grow bigger, into our rightful role and place in our community.  The initiation experience is marked by three unique and distinct stages.  The first stage is severance: we are separated or severed from our everyday life, removed from what we know.  We experience a radical dissolution of our fixed identity. The second stage is ordeal: we experience an intense individual hardship or ordeal that tests our very will to persevere, to live. The third stage is integration: there is a new awareness that we can never go back to where we were before. Something in us has changed and we have to grow bigger to fulfill our new role.

I think the world has been gently knocking, offering us humans many opportunities to pay attention, to grow up, to grow bigger than consumption and greed, individualism and inequity, planetary misuse and abuse. As we have not adequately answered a gentler call, a rougher invitation, one not so easy to ignore, is upon us. In this rough initiation, at least for me, I want to make sure to never go back to where I was before. I am ready and committed to become bigger than I ever thought possible. Please join me there.

What is it in me, in my relationships, and at Wild Earth, that is ready to change forever?  Let’s not miss this opportunity to grow, together.

If these topics are of interest to you and you would like some more support related to befriending grief, I would invite you to Francis Weller’s outstanding book,  The Wild Edge of Sorrow:  Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief.  Francis also just released a new eBooK, titled, In the Absence of the Ordinary: Essays in a Time of Uncertainty.


David BrownsteinDavid BrownsteinDavid Brownstein, Executive Director

In 2004, David co-founded and, today, is the Executive Director of Wild Earth, where he seeks to help regenerate healthy community culture and create opportunities for people to connect with themselves, each other and the Earth. Prior to founding Wild Earth, David worked as a wealth advisor on Wall Street for twelve years before realizing a life dream – fully sharing in the care and parenting of his three children, and creating a small family farm. Today, the Brownsteins raise dairy cows, goats, chickens, bees and vegetables in season. David also maintains an active counseling practice called Root Connections, where he focuses on helping individuals, couples, groups and business leaders identify and manifest their unique vision. More about David's work.

11 thoughts on “Coronavirus: A Rough Initiation”

  1. Diane says:

    The Earth is breathing as we are grieving and as we commit to staying home, to social isolation, to quarantine. I hope that this Ordeal will Integrate to collective social action to change the climate. We can live and lessen our carbon footprints.

  2. So well stated, David. I am of the same mind – not interested in going back and joining you in committing to becoming better. Thank you for all you do, all you inspire, and for sharing your wisdom.

  3. Harrison says:

    My condolences David, to you and your family. That is a heavy, and surreal loss. Sending love and support. For sure there is a blowing apart, and re ordering taking place.

  4. Ingrid Beer says:

    David, I remember meeting your father at a Wild Earth event, I still remember him so clearly. I was struck by his warmth, connection to people, his affection for the children, and everything that was going on; all the life and juice and love and just being with folks. Just met him once but feel fortunate that I did meet him. Along with you; I will honour him.

  5. Lowell says:

    As we try to lean into this unforgettable moment of grief and sadness in the world and to do our best to emerge like a chrysalis reborn of the Earth mother’s womb from which all have sprung, you David offer so much inspiration on how to find the strength in renewal and to be ready to continue forging paths of community and deeper connection between all beings among us. Continue your fantastic work. We are all grateful for everything you do. I send you and your family my sincere wishes of love hope and continued blessings.

  6. David Brownstein says:

    Thank you so much, friends, for sharing your wisdom and understanding at this uncertain time. I have found my deep connections to family and community the most invaluable resource as I experience and process the grief of losing my father and COVID’s devastation on so many among us.

  7. Guy Quinn says:

    Thank you for sharing as you are always so willing to do David. I am inspired to come out of this challenge, on the bright side of this dark cloud and to have the light shine on another way to go about this opportunity to live on the Earth.

  8. Miriam Dror says:

    Dear David,

    I’m so very sorry about the loss of your father and in the most grief compelling circumstances. There are no words. . . . And yet, in my opinion, in terms of the larger and larger circles of grief, world wide, you couldn’t have found better words. These words speak to the totality of my life work. I’ll stand by you in this initiation any day. Sending you love and safe passage, for your dear father.

  9. Dan Asher says:

    I’m sorry for your loss, David.

    I spoke with my parents and Linda around the time.
    I’d hoped to at least make the service with you guys.

    Marty was a beloved Godfather to me and a wonderfully welcomed and appreciated influence in my youth. I was thrilled when he found the healing arts… the way he spoke of Eselin in CA, I’d hoped to join him there at some point

    I didn’t know he created the first blood storage bag… what a huge contribution!!!

    I hope you are well, Godbrother! ;D



  10. David Brownstein says:

    Thank you, dear Miriam, for your condolences and kind words. Believe it or not, I am just seeing them now (from almost 3 years ago). Nevertheless, I so appreciate you and am grateful for you walking beside me, even when I sometimes forget you are there. So much love to you and Charlie.

  11. David Brownstein says:

    Thank you, Dan, for your condolences and your loving words about my dad. I am so glad he had positive impact on your life, too. Much love and care, David

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